HP’s big colour push

SAN DIEGO — Hewlett-Packard will reveal new printer and multifunction devices with sharply lower prices this week to help resellers push colour deeper into small and medium businesses and corporate departments, according to a senior executive.

The announcement will come at HP’s annual

imaging and printing conference for about 100 reporters and industry analysts here, where the company gives a peek — sometimes publicly, sometimes under non-disclosure agreements — at upcoming products and strategies.

Ralph McNeil, vice-president of marketing for HP Canada’s imaging and printing group, wouldn’t detail the products to be talked about or their price points.

However, in an interview he said there will be “some significant breakthrough” in prices.

The imaging group, of course, is vital to the company: According to Keith Kmetz, program director for hardcopy peripherals at IDC in Framingham, Mass., “their profits are supporting a lot of HP’s other activities that are not as profitable.”

The group includes everything from inkjet printers and scanners aimed at consumers to LaserJets for business.

“They’re in an enviable position,” Kmetz said in a pre-conference interview. “They’re the defacto standard in the printing industry” with “huge market share in all printing segments.”

And their revenues are aide by the sale of consumables from ink, toner and paper.

However, the company is still struggling to get its name known in the multifunction and copier markets, where competitors such as Xerox, Lexmark and Canon lead.

“They haven’t been able to crack the copier nut” yet, said Kmetz, in part because the copier channel for sales and support differs from the printer channel, which HP knows well.

“They’ve struggled,” agrees Ken Weilerstein, vice-president of Gartner Inc.’s digital document imaging group.
“They’ve made a lot of progress, but it’s still something they’re engaged with.”

Among the strategies HP is using to push its multifunction devices deeper into enterprises are alliances with VARs like Ikon Office Supplies, a world-wide reseller which specializes in assembling document management hardware and software solutions.

Another was last year’s partnership deal with Konica-Minolta to bring that company’s copier engine technologies into HP devices.

All printer-copier manufacturers are eagerly trying to get businesses to invest more in colour and less in monochrome devices, arguing colour in reports, brochures and the like will help staff inside the company understand charts and graphs, and boost sales to customers with brightly-illustrated documents.

Many companies use colour now, but only in spots: Some have expensive combination monochrome and laser copiers, but many have a dedicated colour laser or ink jet which they use to print special colour pages for hand insertion into monochrome documents. This manufacturers argue, is inefficient and expensive.

Of course, manufacturers aren’t altruistic: They like the revenues the colour-enabled hardware (on which there is a premium) and consumables bring in. Industry analysts warn, however, that those prices will have to come closer to monochrome before businesses bite.

Part of this conference’s purpose, McNeil said, is to convince industry reporters and analysts that the costs have come down enough for business to look seriously at using colour more in-house.

If runs are big enough, McNeil said, companies can take advantage of their ability to personalize documents and save money.

Among HP’s ammunition will be a case study of baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays, who used to print tens of thousands of tickets before the season until HP convinced it to use one of its 9500 series copiers to do the job. Now tickets can be printed as needed, with add-ons like bar codes for security.

The example also illustrates HP’s push into managed imaging services, in which it offers to go into companies, analyze their needs and offer consolidation and other services to bring their printing costs down.

While HP has touted a multi-million dollar deal with Ford Motor Co. in the U.S., McNeil said channel partners here shouldn’t fear being pushed out of market share. Direct sales revenue in Canada is “insignificant” and there are no plans to expand it, he said.

Still, industry analysts note that more enterprises are looking at outsourcing their imaging and output infrastructure.

On the consumer side, HP is using its name in printers to make big strides in inkjet photo printers, but its foray into digital cameras — which will be discussed here — also faces obstacles.

According to IDC, HP ranked sixth in digital camera sales last year in the U.S., behind Sony, Kodak, Olympus, Canon and Fujitsu

“They’re really known as a PC-peripheral provider,” observed Ron Glaz, an IDC digital photography analyst.

McNeil agreed the company needs to get more brand recognition. But, he said, “we’re in the top five, and in any given month in the top three.”

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer. Former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, Howard has written for several of ITWC's sister publications, including ITBusiness.ca. Before arriving at ITWC he served as a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times.

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